Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi No Class War Here

By Harry Willson

NOVEMBER 29, 1999:  The 200 richest people in the world own as much as the two billion poorest. Two billion! That's one third of the total population of the planet. There doesn't seem to be much objection. The two billion are too poor to object, too poor to breathe, almost.

A while ago some of us attended a union rally with the theme, "America needs a raise!" I hoped the rhetoric would be more pointed than "we must stick together" and "God will take care of us." I wanted talk of campaign finance bribery, universal free education, radical income redistribution; and when the corporations call that "stirring up class war," I wanted an affirmation that they better believe it and that they ain't seen nothin' yet. But, no.

For all of my adult life there was a champion of the left-out people, but he has been discredited and no longer counts in the ivory halls where professional thinking is supposedly encouraged. Karl Marx no longer counts, not because he was proved wrong by fellow professional thinkers, but because he was represented in the minds of the world's thinkers by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which is now defunct. Vietnam and Cuba, which still could be labeled "Marxist" by careless labelers who have not read Marx, do not really count. China still counts, and pretends to be Marxist, but no one is fooled.

The disparity in wealth is allowed to stand. The average CEO in this country is paid 419 times as much as the average worker. Talk of "class war," or even "class struggle" is now gauche, impolite and uncivil. The idea of using the power to tax in order to even things out a little is now dismissed as unthinkable, and instead that power is used to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. "Tax cuts" mean lower taxes for the obscenely rich, not for those who need economic help. Robin Hood, who carried out forcible transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor, is nobody's hero these days.

Instead of trying as a group to make things more equal, the opposite has become the predominant philosophy. Now deliberate, up-front, openly-acknowledged selfishness is regarded as the up-and-coming way to think and do things. Altruism, the idea that "other people" could be a value worth considering, is now regarded as a sure sign of weakness.

The prevailing attitude is I'll get mine -- you get yours, if you can. I'll break the rules, if I think I can get away with it. There shouldn't be any rules anyway. Rules come from the old myths which no one believes. I'll have to invest some of my holdings in bribes to make sure that the rule-makers who are left do what I want. Anyone who objects is a crybaby, a poor loser, a bleeding-heart failure, who resents success whenever he observes it.

Class consciousness is now suspect. Everyone is supposed to be "middle class." There was a time in Merrie Olde England where these class distinctions came from, when the distinction between classes was not money but the accident of birth. The land-owning nobility were the top class, and the serfs were the bottom. Some serfs found their freedom and became the famous yeoman farmers. Others became business persons, entrepreneurs, and they formed the original middle class, and some of them became obscenely wealthy.

Their attempts to buy their way into the top class, purchasing landed titles, earldoms, dukedoms, or letting the process take a generation by marrying their rich daughter to some sort of petty "noble," became almost comical to those of us who don't buy into the concept of rank in the first place. Money alone, back then, didn't get the job done.

But here, where we don't have an inherited nobility, money does talk, and the odd thing is we're not supposed to mention it! We're supposed to pretend that the rich are just like everybody else, struggling, gasping, trying to keep their heads a little above water. We're supposed to pretend that this booming economy is just fine for the overworked masses who have very much less than those who have the most. There's no class war here, we're supposed to think -- and the plan is working. There's no class consciousness to speak of, no class struggle. It's as if Marx had never bothered to explain capitalism. But he did explain it -- which is the real reason why the capitalists never liked him.

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